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VIA WEBMD:

By Barbara Russi Sarnataro

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Matthew Hoffman, MD

Experts say there is no magic to exercise: You get out of it what you put in. That doesn’t mean you have to work out for hours each day. It just means you need to work smart.That said, experts agree that not all exercises are created equal. Some are simply more efficient than others, whether they target multiple muscle groups, are suitable for a wide variety of fitness levels, or help you burn calories more effectively. So what are the best exercises? We posed this question to four fitness experts and compiled a list of their favorites.

1. Walking

Any exercise program should include cardiovascular exercise, which strengthens the heart and burns calories. And walking is something you can do anywhere, anytime, with no equipment other than a good pair of shoes. It’s not just for beginners, either: Even the very fit can get a good workout from walking. “Doing a brisk walk can burn up to 500 calories per hour. Since it takes 3,500 calories to lose a pound, you could expect to lose a pound for every seven hours you walk, if you did nothing else.Don’t go from the sofa to walking an hour day, though.

2. Interval training

Whether you’re a beginner or an exercise veteran, a walker or an aerobic dancer, adding interval training to your cardiovascular workout will boost your fitness level and help you lose weight. “Varying your pace throughout the exercise session stimulates the aerobic system to adapt. “The more power the aerobic system has, the more capacity you have to burn calories.” The way to do it is to push the intensity or pace for a minute or two, then back off for anywhere from two to -10 minutes (depending on how long your total workout will be, and how much time you need to recover). Continue doing this throughout the workout.

3. Squats

Strength training is essential, the experts say. “The more muscular fitness you have, “the greater the capacity you have to burn calories.”And our experts tended to favor strength-training exercises that target multiple muscle groups. Squats, which work the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteals, are an excellent example. ”

4. Lunges

Like squats, lunges work all the major muscles of the lower body: gluteals, quadriceps, and hamstrings. A lunge is a great exercise because it mimics life, it mimics walking. Lunges are a bit more advanced than squats, helping to improve your balance as well.Here’s how to do them right: Take a big step forward, keeping your spine in a neutral position. Bend your front knee to approximately 90 degrees, focusing on keeping weight on the back toes and dropping the knee of your back leg toward the floor. To make a lunge even more functional, try stepping not just forward, but back and out to each side.

5. Push-ups

If done correctly, the push-up can strengthen the chest, shoulders, triceps, and even the core trunk muscles, all at one time.

Anytime you have the pelvis and the core [abdominals and back] in a suspended position, you have to rely on your own adherent strength to stabilize you.” Push-ups can be done at any level of fitness, For someone who is at a more beginning level, start by pushing from the kitchen-counter height. Then work your way to a desk, a chair, the floor with bent knees, and, finally, the floor on your toes.

6. Abdominal Crunches

Who doesn’t want firm, flat abs? Experts say that when done correctly, the familiar crunch (along with its variations) is a good choice to target them. For a standard crunch, says Cotton, begin lying on your back with feet flat on the floor and fingertips supporting your head. Press your low back down and begin the exercise by contracting abdominals and peeling first your head (tucking your chin slightly), then your neck, shoulders, and upper back off the floor. Be careful not to pull your neck forward by sticking the chin out; don’t hold your breath, and keep elbows out of your line of vision to keep chest and shoulders open. Crunches can be excellent, but if they’re not done correctly, with the back arching, they can actually weaken the abdominals. To work the obliques (the muscles on the sides of your waist), take the standard crunch and rotate the spine toward one side as you curl off the floor. “Crunches work the ab muscles; [they’re] not to be mistaken as exercise that burns the fat over the abdominals.”That’s the biggest myth in exercise going.”